Food Diary: Happy Chicken? – The Horrors Behind the Industry

We hear a lot of times the expression: “You are what you eat.”. Some of us have no idea how true this is. You have to see the growing up/old process as playing with Lego. You add more bricks everyday to the structure, and they have to be the right bricks, otherwise the whole construction will come to the ground.

You only get one body, one chance at being healthy. Everything you put into your body will eventually do you good, or wrong. It’s up to you to decide what’s best, and you can only do this if you know the whole story. This is why I find it very important to share a few thoughts on the truth behind the chicken industry, hoping you will find this article useful, and help you chose better next time you go out to eat/buy meat. It was extremely difficult for me to put all of these into words (it wasn’t done without a lot of tears), but shedding some light on the matter is much more important.

In the race towards producing more and cheaper food, we sometime forget the quality is what really matters, long term, and not the quantity. Here are the horrors which happen behind the scenes.

The chicken meat production

Let’s take a closer look at one of the most desired meat on the market: chicken. The chicken on the right is how the animal used to look like, 60 years ago. The one on the left is how chickens look today, a fast growing breed of chicken, which came into the picture after the war, as a cheap solution to bringing more meat into our homes.

Not so much of a difference? Look closer and you will see how deformed its legs are, and how overweight it is compared to the chicken on the right. Why? It’s easy. Selective breeding turned the chickens into food eating driven machines, with the ultimate goal of delivering the big, juicy chicken breast, we buy from the supermarkets.

Chicken nowadays grow larger and larger, and so fast ( with an insane average of 60 grams per day), that they can barely stand up. Actually, they are growing at a rate three times faster than they used to, 60 years ago, in only 35-39 days! Sounds like Sci-Fi, but it actually happens.

The unnatural growth rate of these chickens doesn’t come without a price, but it affects their bodies, especially their hearts, lungs and bones. Most of them never walk in their lives, lying in their own feces, with open sores and wounds. Remember ever buying a whole chicken and discover its legs are cut off or have black spots here and there? That’s because of the bone deformities and the ammonia from their own feces, which burns the skin on the legs.

What also doesn’t help is the crowded sheds in which the birds are kept. With very little movement space, up to 19 birds can live in a sqm! Without ever seeing the sun, and touching the grass, that’s a very short and miserable life for a bird, especially when the mortality rate is pretty high.

If they make it at the end of the 39 days alive, they are killed by electrocution, which makes the bird unconscious, followed shortly by a bloody process which is meant to terminate its life, process which I don’t even want to recall…

Battery eggs and the caged chickens

This industry is separate from the one in which the chickens are raised for meat, and it starts with the chicks, freshly hatched. The females are separated from the males, and after the males are discarded (gassed – a slowly and painful death, then chopped for future processing), the females are put into extremely small cages (around 4 in such a cage), with no room to move around, where they eat, drink, poop, lay eggs, for a year, in almost complete darkness, without ever seeing the sun, time in which they lose most of their feathers, because of the severe stress they are put through.

The eggs are taken out of the cages, wrapped nicely, and delivered to your supermarket, in a pretty box, with pictures of happy chickens on it. Anything but happy I must say…

After the year has passed, the quality and quantity of eggs drops down, so the chickens are considered useless for egg laying, and moved to yet another part of the meat industry, where they get slaughtered.

Some rescued such birds, living as family pets, being loved and cared for, live for 8-9 years. Makes you wonder: is this kind of treatment necessary? Why killing an animal after one year of abuse, when with better care, the animal could live so much longer, produce better quality eggs, and live a normal happy life?

How can we, the buyers, help?

It’s a very tricky question, with a very hard answer. Not buying meat from the supermarkets, unless we know where it comes from( know the animals were treated with respect), and turning towards home growing or buying locally, from farmers, might be a start.

Also, you can avoid buying eggs from chickens in cages, but that’s not all you have to be aware of. Most products you buy at the supermarket contain such eggs, and as the producers are not forced to write on the bottles/jars/bags where do the eggs come from, you will never know the true story behind what you are eating. Examples of such products: cookies, pastries, sauces, mayonnaise and the list goes on and on.

The fast food restaurants (KFC, McDonald’s and many others) are some of the biggest buyers of birds raised in such terrible conditions. The pink mass on the left is called goop (mechanically separated chicken – basically everything they can’t use to sell goes in here, including bones), and it’s what we call the yummy Chicken Nuggets. Doesn’t look that good, huh? Would you like to know the whole process behind it? Here’s how the specialists explain what’s going on before it reaches our plates:

Because it’s crawling with bacteria, it will be washed with ammonia, soaked in it, actually. Then, because it tastes gross, it will be reflavored artificially. Then, because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.

Even if the price of meat/eggs might be a bit higher in case of a chicken grown in normal conditions, I believe it’s worth it, in the end. Every cent paid extra, sustains the right type of industry. I don’t know about you but I care about the life of the animal and I want it to be treated with respect, and live a good life, even if its purpose in life is to end up on a plate.

And don’t believe chicken meat is the only one in such a situation. Not at all. Pink Slime sounds familiar? No? It’s a lean finely textured beef, added to ground beef as a filler or to reduce the overall fat content of ground beef. Heat and centrifuges are used, in order to separate the fat from the meat in beef trimmings and the resulting product is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.

Eating the meat or products coming from a stressed animal isn’t healthy for us as humans either. To make matters even worse, the combination of antibiotics, steroids, ammonia or acid which get injected into the animals, are transmitted to us, which makes our immunity system weaker by day.

In the end, we are what we eat. Treating an animal with respect, giving it a chance at a normal life, is what should define us as humans. This will be a small improvement in the life of the birds compared to the improvement in what we call humanity. That being said, go out there, ask questions, get informed, and choose right for both you and the animals!